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If you have a child with another person, whether you're divorced or have never been married, you know that it is impossible to completely sever ties with your co-parent so long as both of you want to have a relationship with your child.
Almost all parenting experts say that it's ideal for children to have a close relationship with both parents, with certain limited exceptions. Unfortunately, it's often difficult or uncomfortable for co-parents to communicate with each other in a way that promotes that closeness. This blog post explores ways for Minnesota co-parents to communicate with each other in a way that benefits their children without causing undue stress for the parents.
Not all that long ago, the options for divorced, separated, or never-married parents who needed to communicate with each other were limited. Technology has not only increased the number of options, but has created better options.
Most parents make ample use of texting and e-mail. These means of communications have a number of advantages. They are quick, of course, and they offer a way to avoid the discomfort of speaking to someone face-to-face in the difficult days during and after a relationship breakup. They also provide a record of what was said by both parties. This is helpful on a practical level: Dad can prove he told Mom about the school play; Mom can refer back to the communication to see when and where the play is. The fact that communications are being documented also promotes civility: if both parties know that the other has a "hard copy" of what they've said, they are less likely to say something they wouldn't want a judge or parenting consultant to know about.
Beyond texting and e-mailing, there are other ways for parents to communicate important information, especially about children's schedules. One of the best known is Our Family Wizard. This program, available online and as an app for use with smartphones, allows parents to share a calendar, message board, expense log and journal so that parents can send each other messages and keep each other up to date on things like expenses and doctor visits. The journaling function allows both parents to document events as they happen. OPTIMAL is another program with many similar features. Both Our Family Wizard and OPTIMAL have subscription fees, but many families feel the cost is worth it in the interest of improved communication and documentation.
For families that are not inclined to pay for services to help them communicate, there are low- and no-cost options. Many families use a shared Google calendar to keep track of parenting time, school events and extracurricular activities. One low-tech, virtually free option some families use is a notebook that travels with the child or children. Parents can jot down anything they need the other parent to know and simply hand the notebook over when they transport the child for parenting time.
Obviously, there are many ways divorced, separated, or never-married parents share the information they need in order to be involved, engaged parents. Despite this, many parents persist in communicating in the one way that works counter to the goal of their child's well-being: through the child him- or herself. No matter how old the child is, this is a bad idea, though it's obviously hardest on small children.
On a practical level, children may forget messages or make errors in relaying them, causing parents to argue about whether the message was really sent in the first place. More important, though, is the fact that children are sensitive to tension between their parents and suffer when they are exposed to it. Even if a child doesn't understand the literal meaning of a hostile message passed from one parent to another through him, he will pick up on the hostility. Ask yourself if it's more important to you to punish your ex or to protect your child.
The goal of all parents should be to minimize the stress on their children from their own breakup. In order to do this, co-parents need to learn to transition from their onetime emotional relationship to a more cordial, businesslike relationship. There's no question it's difficult, but with the use of technology, and by keeping your eyes on the prize—a healthy, well-adjusted child—it can be done.
Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about establishing more effective, less stressful communications with your child's other parent. We look forward to working with you.